Amid relocation buzz, Raiders become bonafide Super Bowl contender

Amid relocation buzz, Raiders become bonafide Super Bowl contender

So here’s a series of thoughts worth considering until the effects of Proposition 64 kick in:

1. The Raiders keep winning, which is not an unwarranted thought given that they’re 8-2 now.

2. The Raiders make the playoffs, which is a given after Monday’s 27-20 come-from-behind win over the improbably decent Houston Texans.

3. The Raiders beat New England in an ankle-deep snowstorm in Foxborough officiated by Walt Coleman, which would be a particularly delicious heap of karma right up the alleys of the mythology-soaked Raider fan base (which, by the way, is not a nation, no matter how much it would desire secession right now).

4. The Raiders beat Dallas in the Super Bowl in Houston the year after the 49ers only hosted one, which would be downright hilarious at the local level.

5. The Raiders hold their victory parade the following Tuesday, starting at the Mormon Temple and heading directly down Broadway, which would be considered by some devout Mormons to be borderline sacrilegious and therefore right up the Raiders’ narrative alley.

6. The parade goes right down Broadway past the car dealerships, past Oaksterdam, past DeLauer’s, past the Warriors’ practice facility, and all the way to Fifth Street, where it takes a left, gets on the Nimitz Freeway and heads to Las Vegas with all the parade-goers following them as a long black ribbon of bittersweet, one eye crying years of unrestrained joy and the other tears of irreparable sadness.

It would, I think we can all agree, be the weirdest farewell in the history of show business.

But all things are in play now that the Raiders have not only fixed what ailed them for most of the past quarter-century but become a bonafide shortlist championship contender with the Cowboys and Patriots.

They have in Derek Carr a young and bold quarterback in a league largely bereft of such creatures, who has learned to trust his teammates and curb his tendency to overbelieve in his arm. They have an offense that is greater than the sum of its metric parts, and a defense that, well, hangs on a lot. They have in head coach Jack Del Rio a born poker player who is learning to love the value of the percentages, and in general manager Reggie McKenzie a once-maligned but now richly praised master of roster construction – find a quarterback, throw money at an offensive line that keeps him safe, and get two receivers who can do things when things are required.

In short, this is beginning to look like a team that, while it doesn’t look as good as the 2002 Super Bowl team, does have the look of a team that might linger among the big eaters for as long as people imagine the Warriors doing so.

And let us not forget that they have in owner Mark Davis an elf impersonator who has spent his entire life being underestimated and/or downright ignored who hired and stayed with McKenzie and hired Del Rio while frantically working his fellow owners to leave the town in which he currently does business under the most favorable terms he can manage.

All these are very happy circumstances for a fan base that has been treated with profound rudeness and condescension since 1981 – all until the part where Davis is trying to beat feet out of town.

So all the above scenarios are very believable, even the one where the family of five standing and cheering in front of the Marriott is cheering its heroes as they pass on February 7 debating whether to follow the parade to Nevada and abandon their lives, or curse the cruelty of a collective existence that rewards with one hand and smites with the other.

No wonder Prop 64 was so important. If this is the future, wouldn’t you want to have a little something to take the edge off? Of course you would. And wouldn’t you want to boost the local economy rather than polish off some imported Russian vodka you lifted from the Jack London Square BevMo for the parade?

Pharmaceuticals aside, this has a chance to become the most improbable tale in a year full of them, making a mockery even of the Chicago Cubs and Leicester City. It could be the Hello Goodbye Tour to beat all hellos and goodbyes, because after all, wasn’t it the prophet who said:

“You say yes (I say yes) I say no (But I may mean no),

“You say stop (I can stay) and I say go go go

“(Till it's time to go), oh

“Oh no”

No, that was The Beatles, you narcotic-damaged hippie. Nobody has ever prophesied this – not even the Prop 64 people in their most smoke-filled planning sessions. That's what makes it so perfect in this, the new Bizarro World.

Raiders retain E.J. Manuel, now have four QBs on the roster


Raiders retain E.J. Manuel, now have four QBs on the roster

The Raiders have a lot of quarterbacks under contract, certainly more than they’ll have come September.

That means the battle to be Derek Carr’s backup should be fierce. EJ Manuel had that title last year, with a shot to retain it after re-signing with the club on Thursday afternoon.

Veteran Josh Johnson signed up Monday, and those two will join third-year man Connor Cook behind Carr on the depth chart.

New head coach Jon Gruden loved Cook coming out of the draft, but the Michigan State alum failed to earn the backup job last season and must make a move up the depth chart to kickstart his career.

Manuel has a strong arm and starting experience, making him a steady and solid backup option. He completed 24-of-43 passes for 265 yards, a touchdown and an interception in two games when Carr was hurt.

Johnson might be a camp arm at this point, though he’ll be given a chance to compete this spring and summer.

Carr has been hurt for at least a small stretch in each of the last two seasons. Having Manuel in that spot might offer stability.

Gruden addressed last year’s backup quarterbacks last month at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Gruden on Manuel: “I think EJ is a young, talented guy,” Gruden said. “He’s been in the facility working out on his own every day. There is a bright upside to him, too, as a young quarterback to keep working with. He’s a free agent, but the Philadelphia Eagles proved that’s a pretty damn important position, isn’t it? Right? So we have to address that and see where we are.”

Gruden on Cook: “I am kind of surprised Connor hasn’t played in two years, other than the playoff game he got in as a rookie. After Derek got hurt last year, they turned the ball to EJ. I don’t know where Connor Cook is. I am frustrated right now that I can’t spend any time with him, but, April 9th (when the Raiders offeseason program starts) will be an exciting day for me and Connor Cook.”

Raiders sign tackle Breno Giacomini


Raiders sign tackle Breno Giacomini

The Raiders need help at right tackle, the lone vacancy along their offensive line. They signed a veteran presence on Thursday afternoon, adding 32-year old Breno Giacomini as the frontrunner to join the starting five.

He has 86 starts in 94 career games, and has been a full-time starter three of the last four years. Giacomini spent 2017 in Houston and the previous three seasons with the New York Jets.

He was a Seattle Seahawk before that, working with Raiders offensive line coach Tom Cable for three of his four years there. Cable gave Giacomini his first chance to start in the second half of 2011, and held the post through 2012.

The bond between the two is clearly strong, considering what Giacomini tweeted shortly after Cable got fired in Seattle.

Coach and player will reunite, hoping to provide steadiness on the right side of the Raiders offensive line.

He’ll compete for a starting spot with Vadal Alexander, second-year pros David Sharpe and Jylan Ware and possibly a drafted player. Giacomini should be considered the favorite unless the Raiders use an early pick on an offensive lineman.

Giacomini has plenty of starts, but his Pro Football Focus numbers aren’t pretty. The analytics says he allowed nine sacks, eight quarterback hits and 64 pressures with Houston last year. He had some decent years under Cable, and a return to that form might push him into the starting lineup for good. Time will tell on that front.